After Effects of Oil Spills

An oil spill is defined as “the release of a liquid petroleum hydrocarbon into the environment.” Oil spills are considered one of the most harmful types of pollution, and one of the most difficult to clean up. They may take weeks, months, and occasionally years to clean because many factors are involved in the clean-up of an oil spill, especially since exposed oil is an immediate fire hazard. 

How do oil spills happen?

Oil spills mostly come from tankers, offshore platforms, drilling rigs disposing of crude oil and its byproducts. Approximately 30-50% of oil spills are a result of human error. This may be indirectly, which is fairly common, or directly, which would just mean a human forgetting to do a part of their job. 20-40% of oil spills are a result of equipment malfunction and/or failure.

What effect do oil spills have on animals?

Oil is very harmful to land life and marine life. Statistically, the animals we see being affected the most are birds and marine animals, like whales, seals, otters, and fish. Oil destroys the insulation birds and animals with fur have. This often leads to them not being dying from hypothermia because of the harsh environments they are now exposed too. Oil can change the growth and digestive patterns of animals if directly ingested, as well as kidney failure. Fish and and shellfish that have been exposed to oil automatically become unsafe for animals and humans to ingest. Oil will clog the blowhole of whales in dolphins, which makes them unable to communicate or breathe, leading to suffocation. Lastly, oil can change the scent of an animal, which is problematic for young birds who use scent to identify their mother. After oil spills, young birds in the area tend to starve and die.

What effect do oil spills have on plants?

The oil that washes onto coastal lines, mangroves, or other wetland areas will contaminate the plants, killing some and making the rest unsuitable for animals to eat. Because of all the animals that oil spills kill, major changes in the food chain occur during and after clean-up. This can lead to a large increase of plants just outside of the affected area, and a large decrease of plants instead of the affected area because when an oil penetrates the plants, they typically die. 

What effect do oil spills have on humans?

The three main ways humans are affected are physical contamination, food contamination, and economic. Oil spills are extremely flammable. If oil catches on fire, it can produce toxic gases that can damage human lungs. Beyond the air, fires also kill people. In the Deepwater Horizon explosion, 11 workers were killed because of an oil-induced accident. 47 people were killed in the fire produced by Lac-Megnatic derailment. Other situations like these have occurred several times throughout history.

Sources:

NOAA. “How does oil impact marine life?” National Ocean Service NOAA, 26 February 2021, https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/oilimpacts.html. Accessed 5 September 2021.

Thompson, Andrea. “FAQ: The Science and History of Oil Spills.” Live Science, 23 April 2010, https://www.livescience.com/9885-faq-science-history-oil-spills.html. Accessed 5 September 2021.

West, Larry. “5 Environmental Consequences of Oil Spills.” Treehugger, 11 November 2021, https://www.treehugger.com/environmental-consequences-of-oil-spills-1204088. Accessed 5 September 2021.

Wikipedia. “Oil spill.” Wikipedia, 27 June 2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oil_spill. Accessed 5 September 2021.

A New Way To Travel

Greenhouse Gas emissions are at the highest they have ever been. Emissions from fossil fuels and industry (producing goods and raw materials that we use in our everyday lives) produce approximately 36 billion metric tons annually. This causes rising temperatures, extreme weather conditions, and other changes in the environment around us.

Most people are aware that tackling climate change has become very important to world leaders. In the United States, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Edward Markey proposed the Green New Deal. This received a lot of controversy. Some considered it ‘too progressive’; others claimed the solutions were unattainable. The debate over this piece of legislation has continued to today. I would like to discuss one of the proposed solutions: high-speed rails.

What is a High-Speed Rail?

A high-speed rail is a form of rail transportation, almost identical to a train, but much faster with the singular purpose being to move people. There are lots of countries that have already installed high-speed rails, including China, Japan, Morocco, Russia, South Korea, Taiwan, Uzbekistan, as well as rails being a major mode of transportation to travel across Europe. In the United States, there is already high-speed rail going from Washington D.C., and Boston however it is considered much smaller in scale than what the Green New Deal proposes, in terms of speed and distance.

How will it help the environment?

Transportation alone makes up for 29% of greenhouse emissions in the U.S. The average car produces 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year. The U.K. Department for Business, Energy, & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) found that taking a train instead could lower the emissions you produce in a year by approximately 80%.

The introduction of high-speed rails would lead to less need for roads. With fewer roads being built, there would be less destruction of animal habitats. With the rapid rise of our population and globalization of transportation, the amount of people who use cars is increasing dramatically. With more cars, more roads are built to combat large amounts of traffic. High-speed rails do not have that issue. Traffic does not happen on a railway. If fewer people buy cars because the need for them is less relevant, there will be less need to build roads.

High-speed rails produce less than ⅓ of the carbon emissions a plane does. Cross-country trips are much more energy efficient on a train. The fastest train travels at about 220 mph, which makes traveling much faster than using a car, and uses only slightly less time than the average commercial flight. Lastly, the average plane ticket to fly from coast to coast is about $200. The average coast-to-coast rail ticket is closer to $75, making it the more affordable option.

Sources

High Speed Rail Alliance. “Better Travel.” High Speed Rail Alliance, https://hsrail.org/why-high-speed-rail/better-travel. Accessed 3 July 2021.

High Speed Rail Alliance. “Lower Carbon Emissions.” High Speed Rail Alliance, https://hsrail.org/why-high-speed-rail/lower-carbon-emissions. Accessed 3 July 2021.

High Speed Rail Alliance. “What is High-Speed Rail.” High Speed Rail Alliance, https://hsrail.org/high-speed-rail. Accessed 3 July 2021.

Irfan, Umair. “The Green New Deal wants Americans to invest in high-speed Rails.” Vox, 13 February 2019, https://www.vox.com/2019/2/8/18215774/green-new-deal-high-speed-train-air-travel. Accessed 3 July 2021.

Ritchie, Hannah. “Which form of transportation has the lowest carbon footprint?” Our World in Data, 13 October 2021, https://ourworldindata.org/travel-carbon-footprint#:~:text=Taking%20a%20train%20instead%20of,your%20emissions%20by%20~84%25.&text=Over%20short%20to%20medium%20distances,lowest%20carbon%20way%20to%20travel. Accessed 6 August 2021.United States Environmental Protection Agency. “Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data.” United States Environmental Protection Agency, https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/global-greenhouse-gas-emissions-data. Accessed 3 July 2021.

Regional Effects of Climate Change

When we consider the term ‘climate change’ we typically think of a global phenomenon. We think of the temperatures rising everywhere, the winter and summer becoming longer and harsher weather in every region of the world. All of these things are happening. However, it’s important to look at how certain regions are being affected by climate change.

Coastal Regions

Approximately 40% of the world’s population lives within 100 kilometers of a coastline. Most of the major global infrastructure is near a coastline. This is because of trade routes. Most of our imports arrive by boat, so major cities were built near the coastline to make this process easier. The ocean levels are rising, which is expected to displace nearly 100 million people. The displaced peoples (or climate refugees) and the possible ruin of major infrastructure will lead to political and economic issues. Governments will not be able to provide these people with the resources they need. They also will not be able to rebuild all of the ruined infrastructures.

Climate change causes more extreme weather. In areas near the coast, we often see tropical storms and hurricanes. The increase in air and ocean temperature will make these extreme weather patterns more frequent and more intense. Mega-storms have gone from occurring once every 100 years to once every 16 years.

Dry Regions

In dry areas like the Southern Great Plains and the Northwest fire seasons are going to become more intense. Forest fire seasons will not only last for a longer period but could become an issue year-round. Fires that occur will be hotter because of the hotter temperatures. Hot temperatures will also make areas drier, which will allow fires to catch easier. This could have political effects also. Governments may not have the ability to stop and/or prevent these fires. Climate refugees will also become an issue here; the government won’t have the resources to help rebuild homes and provide medical aid to everyone harmed in the fires.

Agricultural Regions

In the Midwest and Northern Great Plains, where we have a lot of acreage devoted to agriculture and ranching, we are going to see an increase in rainfall and flooding. This could ruin crops and hurt our food supply. The effects of that would be devastating. Flooding could also destroy homes and leave many people without shelter.

Sources:

Denchak, Melissa. “Global Climate Change: What You Need to Know.” NRDC, 23 February 2017, https://www.nrdc.org/stories/global-climate-change-what-you-need-know. Accessed 9 June 2021.

NASA. “Effects: Facts – Climate Change.” NASA, 9 June 2021, https://climate.nasa.gov/effects/. Accessed 10 June 2021.

Second Nature. “Regional Climate Impacts.” Second Nature, 2017, https://secondnature.org/regional-climate-impacts/. Accessed 10 June 2021.UCSUSA. “Climate Impacts.” Union of Concerned Scientists, 2020, https://www.ucsusa.org/climate/impacts. Accessed 9 June 2021.

Nuclear Energy and How it Affects the Environment

As the dangers of fossil fuels and the threat that global warming is posing become more obvious, many people are looking for alternatives for energy sources. Nuclear power is a form of energy that could be cheap, simple to produce, and sustainable. It has the potential to power all of our homes and buildings, without greenhouse gas emissions. However, many people globally, especially politicians and investors, believe that nuclear energy is too risky and that alternative using energy sources would be better. As American journalist Michael Specter once said, “Humanity has nearly suffocated the globe with carbon dioxide, yet nuclear power plants that produce no such emissions are so mired in objections and obstruction that, despite renewed interest on every continent, it is unlikely another will be built in the United States.”

What is nuclear energy?

Nuclear energy is the energy found in the nucleus of an atom. When released, it can produce a substantial amount of power. Nuclear power plants take atoms, mostly ones found in uranium, and go through the process of nuclear fission. Nuclear fission is when atoms are split to release that energy. The energy from the nucleus is harvested, and that is what we turn into electricity and use to power buildings and homes. Nuclear fission creates a byproduct of nuclear energy: radioactive material. Radioactive material is hard to dispose of. When not done properly, it can have very serious effects on the surrounding people and animal populations, as well as the environment.

When did nuclear energy arise?

This was first discovered during World War II with the invention of the atomic bomb. After the war, many scientists thought that nuclear energy would be a healthier version of the extremely fatal weapon. When nuclear energy started becoming a more popular idea, nuclear power plants were built. In 1954, the first nuclear power plant designed to provide energy to a community was built in Obninsk, Russia. From there, a few more plants opened all around the world, including in the United States. Despite the success of the first nuclear power plants, many investors saw nuclear energy as a risky investment, as opposed to oil companies and other up-and-coming sustainable energy options like solar energy and wind power. Political leaders saw it as a risk because nuclear weapons could easily be manufactured at nuclear power plants without the knowledge of foreign countries. Others worried that the radioactive waste would contaminate the water and ground surrounding the power plants. Up until the 1970s, nuclear energy was not widely used and most were opposed. War in the Middle East, however, made the price of oil significantly rise, which made countries look for alternative energy sources. 

What are the positive environmental factors of using nuclear energy?

The biggest argument as to why we should use nuclear energy comes from the fact that no fossil fuels are released into the atmosphere. Approximately 65% of greenhouse gas emissions come from CO2 produced in the burning of fossil fuels and industrial processes. That’s just over 5 billion metric tons being released into our atmosphere annually. The effects of producing that many greenhouse gases are catastrophic and will lead to the temperature of the Earth being too hot. So the appeal to use a power source that produces no CO2 is extremely appealing. Another advantage of using nuclear power is the scale at which it produces energy. A single power plant has the potential to produce enough energy for 47,700 homes per year. The average ‘small town’ in the United States has 6,200 homes.

What are the negative environmental factors of using nuclear energy?

Radioactive waste, the byproduct of nuclear energy, can be very harmful to anyone or anything that comes in contact with it. It’s hard to dispose of, takes thousands of years to break down, and has the potential to alter DNA and cause sickness and disease in humans, animals, and plants. Some of the nuclear power plant accidents we think of when we discuss nuclear energy are: the Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant (near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) that had a core meltdown in 1979, the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant explosion (formerly found in Pripyat, Ukraine) that happened in 1986 and the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant that had three nuclear meltdowns in 2011. The aftermath of these accidents was prolific, so it’s no wonder people are reluctant; using nuclear energy is risky.

Sources:

Kukreja, Rinkesh. “Dangers and Effects of Nuclear Waste Disposal.” Conserve Energy Future, 2021, https://www.conserve-energy-future.com/dangers-and-effects-of-nuclear-waste-disposal.php#:~:text=Although%20most%20of%20the%20time,generations%20of%20animal%20and%20plants. Accessed 10 May 2021.

Kukreja, Rinkesh. “Radioactive Waste: Various Types and Devastating Effects.” Conserve Energy Future, 2021, https://www.conserve-energy-future.com/types-of-radioactive-waste.php. Accessed 10 May 2021.

Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell. Nuclear Energy Explained: How does it work? 1/3. 26 March 2015. Youtube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rcOFV4y5z8c. Accessed 10 May 2021.

National Geographic. “Nuclear Energy.” National Geographic, 24 May 2011, https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/nuclear-energy/#:~:text=Powered%20by-,Nuclear%20energy%20is%20the%20energy%20in%20the%20nucleus%2C%20or%20core,in%20an%20atom%27s%20dense%20nucleus. Accessed 10 May 2021.

United States Environmental Protection Agency. “Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data.” EPA, 2014, https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/global-greenhouse-gas-emissions-data. Accessed 10 May 2021.

U.S. Energy Information Administration. “How much electricity does an American home use?” eia, 9 October 2020, https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=97&t=3. Accessed 11 May 2021.

U.S. Energy Information Administration. “How much electricity does a nuclear power plant generate?” eia, 28 December 2020, https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=104&t=3. Accessed 11 May 2021.

Bycatch and the Fishing Industries Effect on the Food Chain

In 2018, Americans ate nearly 16.1 pounds of seafood throughout the entire year. Many vegetarians find themselves eating fish because it’s an excellent source of protein. Seafood has been a common meal for thousands of years. But lately, the fishing industry has been under scrutiny because of the amount of damage they are causing through overfishing and bycatch. What do you need to know about where your fish is coming from?

What is bycatch?

Bycatch is the incidental capture of non-target species, such as dolphins, turtles, seabirds, and fish of a different species. Bycatch happens because of the gear that is used in modern commercial fishing. The most common types of gear- longlining, trawling, and gillnets- are incredibly effective. Their effectiveness leads to all sorts of creatures getting pulled overboard that the fishermen don’t want. The creatures are then thrown back overboard, however many of the creatures are already dead by the time they return to the water. In the United States, nearly 2 billion pounds of bycatch are thrown overboard annually. That’s over 10% of all animals caught.

Why do fishermen discard so many animals?

The main reason a fisherman will throw a sea creature back into the ocean, regardless of whether the creatures are alive or not, is because they do not have the permits. To legally catch and sell a fish they must have the permits to do so. Big fishing companies, the kind you might buy from at your local grocery store, have very specific regulations about what kind of fish each boat can catch. Another reason may be because the creature isn’t market-worthy. When seabirds are caught, fishermen feel they have to release them back because there is no way to sell a seabird.

What is overfishing?

Overfishing is the depletion of the stock of fish across the world because of too much fishing. The number of overfished stocks in the world has tripled in the last half a century. It’s estimated that by 2048, all seafood will be gone. But if companies in the fishing industry know about this, why wouldn’t they slow the rate at which they are catching and selling? The answer is simple: it would drive up the price of fish to an absurd amount, and ultimately put them out of business.

How does that affect the environment?

Bycatch and overfishing are causing a huge disruption in the food chain. If sharks, dolphins, and other species at the top of the food chain don’t have any food to eat, their population will die off. After some time, smaller crustaceans and some plants will rapidly increase until they consume all of the plankton and small organisms, then they will die off too. Fish are essential in keeping the food chain running properly, but with bycatch and overfishing, we could see the entire thing collapse.

What’s being done?

Many activist groups are taking action by boycotting unsustainable fishing practices. They believe that using more sustainable gear is important and want people to only buy from places that support sustainable fishing. Some companies are following the activist group’s advice and doing so, but others are having trouble monitoring how much fish and bycatch they are catching, while still catching enough fish to make money and keep their companies running.

Sources

Bland, Alastair. “Why 500 Million U.S. Seafood Meals Get Dumped In The Sea.” NPR, 21 March 2014, https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2014/03/21/292094853/why-500-million-u-s-seafood-meals-get-dumped-in-the-sea. Accessed 13 April 2021.

Molyneaux, Paul. “Bye-bye bycatch: Net design and electronics help fishermen keep their catch clean.” National Fisherman, 2 April 2021, https://www.nationalfisherman.com/boats-gear/bye-bye-bycatch-net-design-and-electronics-help-fishermen-keep-their-catch-clean. Accessed 13 April 2021.

NOAA Fisheries. “Understanding Bycatch.” fisheries.noaa.gov, 2021, https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/insight/understanding-bycatch. Accessed 13 April 2021.

Pellman Rowland, Michael. “Two-Thirds Of The World’s Seafood Is Over-Fished — Here’s How You Can Help.” Forbes, 24 July 2017, https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelpellmanrowland/2017/07/24/seafood-sustainability-facts/?sh=40d748f44bbf. Accessed 13 April 2021.

World Wildlife Fund. “What is Bycatch?” worldwildlife.org, 2020, https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/bycatch. Accessed 12 April 2021.

World Wildlife Fund. “What is overfishing?” worldwildlife.org, 2020, https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/overfishing. Accessed 12 April 2021.